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In a normal, non-PPR league, which rookie tight end has the most value for the 2019 season? Does your answer change for PPR leagues?
Rookie tight ends rarely have redraft value, even if they're eventual All-Pros in future seasons. With that caveat, my answer hinges on whether the Minnesota Vikings and Kyle Rudolph come to terms on a new contract. If Rudolph scoffs at Minnesota's pending five-year extension and refuses a pay cut otherwise, Minnesota will either release or trade him. If that scenario, Irv Smith becomes the top rookie tight end. Smith can block and catch, and he would see massive snap count share in the event of Rudolph's departure. If, on the other hand, Rudolph remains a Viking, the honor of top rookie tight end falls to T.J. Hockenson. Hockenson is the best tight end prospect we've seen in a long time and should have a featured role as both a blocker and receiver immediately.
It's probably one of Noah Fant in Denver and T.J. Hockenson in Detroit. Fant is the better physical mismatch, and Hockenson will be a foundational part of the offense right away. Both were first round picks and their teams will be inclined to get them on the field. The other targets in Denver are more underwhelming than the ones in Detroit, and Denver might be more pass-inclined than Detroit. I expect neither to make a huge splash in year one, but they are the favorites here. Don't discount Josh Oliver in Jacksonville. He has little competition for immediate snaps and Nick Foles is starting at square one with his entire wide receiver and tight end group, save for some time on the same roster with Chris Conley, who he recruited to join the team. Jace Sternberger is a dark horse if Jimmy Graham struggles with injuries, or Irv Smith if Kyle Rudolph is traded. The answer doesn't change in PPR leagues.
Jace Sternberger has the best chance to be the rookie tight end we’re all talking about at the end of the season. Sternberger landed in an incredible situation with Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback and only an aged shell of Jimmy Graham ahead of him on the depth chart. He will not be asked to block as much as T.J. Hockenson or Irv Smith will early on. Additionally, Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur would prefer to have a tight end-centric offense that can run 11 and 12 personnel looks. He was on his way to establishing such an offense in Tennessee last year, but Delanie Walker getting hurt in week one derailed that plan.
The easy answer ought to be T.J. Hockenson, but Matt Patricia and Darrel Bevel clearly want to take the air out of the ball. Sternberger is interesting but don't we always get excited about seam-ripping tight ends in Green Bay only to end up disappointed? If I'm going young at TE2, I prefer second-year players coming off promising first seasons -- Dallas Goedert, Mark Andrews, Chris Herndon, Ian Thomas -- over anyone in this year's rookie class.
Tight end is historically tough to mine Year 1 production of consequence as a general positional rule. However, Noah Fant stands out for his athletic and receiving prowess paired with Joe Flacco's connection to tight ends in his career. Denver has an uncertain passing game pecking order and minimal tight end competition for Fant at the outset.
The key word here is value. We rarely see a rookie tight end have a fantasy impact in year one, but it does occasionally happen. The factors that interest me the most in this situation are opportunity and volume. Which team, that drafted a tight end, has a viable starting spot up for grabs? In my opinion, it's Buffalo and Denver, and possibly Minnesota if they move Kyle Rudolph before the season.
Buffalo lost Tyler Kroft for 3-4 months, due to a broken foot. His injury opens the door for Dawson Knox to emerge. Knox, like Evan Engram, hails from Ole Miss. At 6'4, 254 pounds, Knox has ideal size. The stars are aligning for him to get involved in the offense, especially if he picks things up quickly. In redraft leagues, Knox is most likely going to be a waiver claim unless he truly flashes and is showcased in the Bills offense. If the injuries keep coming, that may be the case.
In Denver, Noah Fant is arguably the best athletic tight end on the team since Julius Thomas. Jeff Heuerman is the incumbent option for the Broncos, but a strong showing by the rookie may shuffle the depth chart in Fant's favor. He's a top rookie tight end option, so he'll be a popular late-round redraft pick. Depending on how he's used in the preseason, he's someone to target as a TE3 or possibly TE2.
I used to agree with Jason that rookie tight ends are a fantasy wasteland. Let’s look at the last ten years in two parts. From 2009 until 2015, if we exclude the Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski rookie season there wasn’t a fantasy starter from the tight end position at all. In some years the top rookie finished 23rd, 25th, 29th or 25th.
Even last year we had three in the top 20. Henry and Engram were highly drafted and expected to do well, but last years top three rookies were not in the first two drafted. All though were drafted in the first 107 picks. If we are a bit more open-minded for 2019, then we need to look at situations. Seven rookie tight ends were taken in the top 100 picks and most have a strong claim for immediate playing time. How quick they learn will determine when they see the field.
It would be a surprise for any of these rookie tight ends to approach fantasy TE1 numbers right away but the one with the best chance to do so is T.J. Hockenson. Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones do almost all of their damage outside the hashes. Hockenson’s primary competition for targets over the middle is 33-year old Danny Amendola. Coming out of Iowa’s pro-style offense, Hockenson should make the transition smoother than most and has a chance to catch 50 passes as a rookie.
After T.J. Hockenson, who appears to be the subject of Darrell Bevel ghost stories from the esteemed Sigmund Bloom (more on this in another roundtable discussion...) I'm rolling with Dawson Knox, Foster Moreau, or Trevon Wesco as a trio of darkhorse possibilities. All three are underrated receivers and route runners who can win the ball and earn yards after the catch, but weren't featured as receivers in college so they didn't earn the draft capital of their more touted contemporaries.
All three also have a decent path to contributing this year. Knox is a superior blocker to Jason Croom, who is the only player standing between Knox and a starting role in Buffalo if Tyler Kroft's recovery bleeds into September. Moreau had an excellent combine, he's a hard-nosed blocker, and his competition on the depth chart is barren of receivers who can stretch a seam and also block.
West Virginia's former head coach, Dana Holgerson said that Wesco was the best player on the squad last year. He routinely praised Wesco as a sixth offensive lineman.
Although Wesco, a former quarterback, is a 270-pound blocking machine, he's also a fast accelerator and has fluid, sudden quickness changing direction. It's why he excels as an H-Back who can work across the line of scrimmage to seal edge defenders as well as lead the way for running backs against linebackers and safeties.
At the Senior Bowl, Wesco wowed me with his ability to drive and bend through his breaks and leave linebackers and safeties scurrying for their footing. He often makes the first man miss in the open field. He'll have a significant role immediately for the Jets. Think of him as a Heath Miller in the Steelers offense when Miller earned top-10 fantasy production as a check-down option.
As interesting as all three tight ends are long-term, value them as waiver-wire additions or final picks in deeper drafts.
T.J. Hockenson is the quick answer, thanks to his diverse skill set and high draft profile. But tight end is such a difficult position to master off the bat, with both blocking and receiving responsibilities up in the air, so it's never wise to expect much. Dating all the way back to 1990, a total of 10 tight ends (11 now, of course) have been selected with top-10 picks. Just a single one (Jeremy Shockey) drew more than 70 targets or caught 35 passes, so we know that not even a high pick buys much traction in the rookie-year passing game.
To make a Year 1 dent, one needs an especially marketable skill or category to excel in. Dominate in the red zone and catch a bunch of touchdowns, maybe, but that's a risky proposition. None of our 10 names from above topped 4 touchdowns, after all. Or ditch the blocking aspect altogether, kick out into the slot 90% of the time, and produce as a wideout. Remember Marques Colston? John Carlson? Evan Engram just two years ago?
In that vein, I'm probably leaning most toward Noah Fant, who I think is dynamic enough to create immediate mismatches from the slot. Fant isn't huge, but he runs like a wideout and pairs immediately with a TE-happy quarterback. Baltimore tight ends averaged 136 targets from 2014-17. Jace Sternberger is a lower-profile option that brings similar up-the-seam ability, and who also landed in a solid position in Green Bay.